Napoli returned to the Champions League in style with Wednesday’s stunning 4-1 win over Liverpool which continued the Reds’ troubled start to the season.
Liverpool were swept away by a whirlwind first-half performance at the Stadio Maradona from Napoli, who were deservedly three goals to the good at the break.
Piotr Zielinski got the ball rolling from the penalty spot in the fifth minute and two more beautifully worked strikes from Andre-Frank Zambo Anguissa and Giovanni Simeone on his Champions League debut left Jurgen Klopp’s side staring at a humiliating defeat.
Poland midfielder Zielinski then added the fourth almost immediately after the restart to ensure Napoli got off to a dream start to Group A.
Luciano Spalletti’s team, who are back in Europe’s top competition after a two-season absence, are second but level with Ajax who performed a demolition job of their own against Rangers.
Napoli built on a strong start to their domestic season which has them second after five games in Serie A and will be encouraged by strong performances from new arrivals, in particular firecracker winger Khvicha Kvaratskhelia.
Georgian Kvaratskhelia has already won over Napoli supporters with his exciting wing play and eye for goal, and although he was only on the field for less than an hour he did considerable damage.
Liverpool meanwhile are kept off the bottom by the Scots and now turn their attentions to trying to improve on seventh place in the Premier League.
Backed by a typically raucous crowd, Napoli came haring out of the traps and could easily have been ahead with less than a minute on the clock.
The lively Victor Osimhen broke onto a long ball from Giovanni Di Lorenzo and nudged it past the onrushing Alisson Becker, but took the ball too wide and instead of trying to lay up his arriving teammates shot off the near post.
They were deservedly ahead shortly afterward when James Milner handled Zielinski’s low shot and allowed the Pole to rifle home the opener.
Napoli would have been further ahead had Osimhen taken a leaf out of Zielinski’s book in the 18th minute, but instead, he wasted his chance from the spot with a fancy run-up after an on-field review of Virgil van Dijk’s clumsy challenge on the Nigerian by referee Carlos del Cerro Grande resulted in another penalty.
However Liverpool were a shambles at the back, constantly caught napping on passes over the top and bewildered by Kvaratskhelia, whose 28th-minute shot was kicked off the line after Osimhen nicked the ball away from Joe Gomez.
And three minutes later Anguissa gave the hosts a lead which more reflected the run of play.
The Cameroon international played a simple one-two with Zielinski to find himself all alone with Alisson before rolling in the second, and from there Liverpool collapsed.
A dream opening half ended with Simeone in tears after making it three just seconds after replacing injured Osimhen, tapping in a simple finish after the irrepressible Kvaratskhelia caused more havoc on the left flank.
Simeone then turned provider for Zielinski to ensure it was a memorable night for the hosts a minute after the break, a first effort denied by Alisson before a follow-up finish was dinked over the Brazilian.
Luis Diaz pulled one back two minutes later but it was all the Reds could conjure up as Napoli shut up shop and saw out a memorable win.
New Chelsea signing Kalidou Koulibaly has insisted he will never let anyone stop him from playing football for Senegal.
The Senegal captain said African nations deserved more respect after the president of his former club, Napoli, said he would only sign African or South American players willing to miss competitions with their national teams.
“Don’t talk to me about Africans anymore,” Napoli president Aurelio de Laurentiis told business website Wall Street Italia. “I wish them well, but either they sign a waiver for the African Cup or else…Between that tournament and the World Cup qualifiers in South America, these players are never available!”
But Senegal captain Koulibaly, who led his country to the Africa Cup of Nations title earlier this year before joining Chelsea in a reported £34 million ($41 million) move from Serie A side Napoli was unimpressed.
“Nobody ever told me not to go to AFCON or something like this,” said Koulibaly during a news conference Wednesday.
“Maybe sometimes they try to ask my manager or something like this.
“But me, now as captain of Senegal, when AFCON comes I have to be the first one there, the first one in Senegal.”
Koulibaly, who has signed a four-year contract with Chelsea following the purchase of the club by US businessman Todd Boehly’s consortium, added: “Nobody can tell me not to go to my national team. I have a lot of love for my national team, the team that I play for.
“So, if someone told me to do that, it would be the only time that I can fight with somebody.
“The way we feel all the time with my national team, we are all respectful, we wait for players to come from the Premier League, and everybody is happy to be here.
“Everybody thinks the same as me in the national team. If someone told them not to come they would always fight to come.
“This is the most important thing. Everybody has to give us respect.”
Koulibaly will bolster a defence now without Antonio Rudiger and Andreas Christensen after they each left Stamford Bridge.
He will wear the number 26 shirt made famous by Chelsea great John Terry having sought permission from the Blues legend.
“I called John and at the beginning he didn’t believe it was me, he thought it was a joke,” Koulibaly explained. “So he called the team manager to ask if it was really me.
“I know that it’s a very important number for John, but it’s also a very important number for me too, because I took it at Napoli.
“And when he said yes I was very happy, because I know what he did for the club and for the supporters here.
“I wanted to tell everybody that I asked him before, because I didn’t want to disrespect a legend of the club.”
Nigerian striker Victor Osimhen inspired a 2-1 win over Udinese to help Napoli climb level on points with Serie A leaders AC Milan on Saturday as an ultra-tight fight for the title heats up in Italy.
Osimhen was the hero of the hour as his two goals on 53 and 63 minutes sealed the win at the Stadio Maradona in Napoli for Luciano Spalletti’s rampaging side.
After his double at Verona last week got Napoli back to winning ways Osimhen, still wearing a face mask to protect his injured cheek bone, levelled the scores with a header after Gerard Deulofeu’s opener midway through the first half for the visitors, before his cross shot put them ahead.
Midfielder Ogenyi Onazi has been put on standby as Nigeria on Friday named their squad, which included Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) 2022 absentee, Oghenekaro Etebo, for the World Cup play-off against regional rivals Ghana later this month.
The long-time absentee was part of the Super Eagles side that won the AFCON in 2013.
Leicester City forward Ademola Lookman was also included in the provisional squad. Nigeria take on Ghana at the 20,000–capacity Cape Coast Sports Stadium on March 25, with the reverse leg set for Abuja four days later.
The winners from the tie will earn one of Africa’s five tickets to the World Cup finals in Qatar from November 21 to December 18.
Lookman has been cleared by FIFA to play for Nigeria after he represented England at various age-grade levels.
He is one of three uncapped players selected by Nigeria, along with Calvin Bassey of Scottish champions Rangers and FC Copenhagen youngster Akinkunmi Amoo.
The enlarged squad also includes Watford forward Emmanuel Dennis and striker Odion Ighalo, who were blocked by their clubs from featuring at the Africa Cup of Nations in Cameroon.
Napoli’s Victor Osimhen, who missed the competition, was also invited.
Taiwo Awoniyi, Peter Olayinka, and Chidozie Awaziem, who all played at the recent AFCON, as well as long-term absentee Ogenyi Onazi, are on a seven-man standby list.
The training camp opens in Abuja on March 21 with a 24–man final list for the two play-off games to be released at a later date.
Goalkeepers: Francis Uzoho (AC Omonia/CYP), Daniel Akpeyi (Kaizer Chiefs/RSA), Maduka Okoye (Sparta Rotterdam/NED)
Defenders: Semi Ajayi (West Brom/ENG), Kenneth Omeruo (Leganes/ESP), Leon Balogun (Glasgow Rangers/SCO), William Ekong (Watford/ENG), Ola Aina (Torino/ITA), Calvin Bassey (Glasgow Rangers/SCO), Abdullahi Shehu (AC Omonia/CYP), Zaidu Sanusi (FC Porto/POR)
Midfielders: Frank Onyeka (Brentford/ENG), Joe Aribo (Glasgow Rangers/SCO), Wilfred Ndidi (Leicester City/ENG), Oghenekaro Etebo (Watford/ENG), Akinkunmi Amoo (FC Copenhagen/DEN)
Forwards: Ahmed Musa (Fatih Karagumruk/TUR), Samuel Chukwueze (Villarreal/ESP), Victor Osimhen (Napoli/ITA), Moses Simon (Nantes/FRA), Sadiq Umar (Almeria/ESP), Odion Ighalo (Al-Hilal/KSA), Kelechi Iheanacho (Leicester City/ENG), Emmanuel Dennis (Watford/ENG), Ademola Lookman (Leicester City/ENG)
It’s now four days since Russia invaded Ukraine. While the military action has continued, sporting activities have also been affected. Chelsea’s owner Roman Abramovich has handed over the club to their board of trustees, becoming one of the biggest sporting impacts of the conflict.
First 11 covers this, the Super Falcon’s qualification for the Africa Women’s Cup of Nations, their delay at the Abuja airport, and other major sports stories last week.
Abramovich Hands Over Chelsea
Russian billionaire Roman Abramovich handed over Chelsea to the club’s board of trustees on Saturday. His move followed sanctions against Russian entities after the invasion of Ukraine.
Abramovich is an oligarch, one of the groups targeted by western sanctions. Earlier, UK lawmakers said they were planning to take over Chelsea after linking Abramovich to the Russian state and his reported involvement in corrupt practices.
Russian GP Cancelled
Apart from this, Formula One authorities also cancelled the Russian Grand Prix billed for September 25 as fighting continued into the second day in the Eastern European nation.
Earlier, world champion Max Verstappen and four-time champion Sebastian Vettel had said they won’t be taking part in the testing in Barcelona, an opposition to driving at the Russian Grand Prix.
UEFA Changes Champions League Host
Formula One was not the only sporting body that took a drastic decision since the invasion. Europe’s football governing body moved the Champions League final from Saint Petersburg to Stade de France in France’s capital of Paris. The final will hold on Saturday, May 28, 2022.
‘No To War’
During the week, Fedor Smolov became the first Russian footballer to publicly oppose his country’s invasion of Ukraine. The 32-year-old Dynamo Moscow took to social media to condemn the action and wrote: “No to war” on Instagram. A day before that, Ukrainian forward Roman Yaremchuk celebrated a Champions League goal for his Portuguese side Benfica by revealing a shirt bearing his country’s coat of arms.
Elanga Keeps Man U’s Hopes Alive
In other matches in Europe’s elite competition, Chelsea became one of the first teams to put one leg in the next round. They saw off Lille, 2-0, in the first leg of the last 16 game at Stamford Bridge. Kai Havertz and Christian Pulisic scored the goals for the defending champions.
A day later, Anthony Elanga netted a late winner to help Manchester United peg Atletico Madrid. The second-round game ended 1-1. The Spanish side had led for much of the match, thanks to a goal from Joao Felix. But Manchester United stroked home an equaliser with just ten minutes to time, cancelling Felix’s seventh-minute effort. Villareal and Juventus had the same scoreline just as Benfica drew 2-2 with Ajax in other Champions League ties.
Barcelona Outclass Napoli
After the Champions League, action returned to Europa League as Barcelona outclassed Napoli to reach the last 16. The Catalans won 4-2 to end the tie 5-3 after the first leg finished 1-1.
“We dominated for 90 minutes and that’s the first time we’ve done that since I became coach,” Xavi told reporters after the match. “It’s a win over a team which I repeat is a Champions League-level team, one which does not concede many goals and is fighting for the league title.”
Falcons Qualify For AWCON
At the home front, the Super Falcons of Nigeria qualified for the African Women’s Cup of Nations (AWCON). The defending champions beat Ivory Coast 0-1 on Wednesday to end the game on a 3-0 aggregate. It was sweet revenge for the Nigerian girls who had lost to the Lady Elephants in the qualification series for the football event of the Tokyo Olympics.
But their victory was marred by the controversy that greeted them once they touched down in the country. They were held up at the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport in Abuja over COVID-19 protocols. Officials of the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) demanded that the players and officials undergo a round of routine tests and pay a certain amount of money before. This is despite having done tests less than 24 hours before arrival in Nigeria.
While reacting to the incident, the Nigeria Football Federation (NFF), apologised to the ladies, describing the development as ‘unfortunate’.
“We are a responsible organization and the various National Teams have been going out and returning to Nigeria since these covid19 protocols, procedures, and guidelines started. We have never been caught napping, “NFF General Secretary, Dr Mohammed Sanusi said.
Sanusi added: “It was beyond us, but we have already apologized to our players and officials over this incident.”
‘Jollof’ Derby Gets New Date
On the other hand, their male counterpart have their 2022 World Cup play-off date shifted. The Confederation of African Football (CAF) moved the first leg from March 24 to 25 while the return fixture, previously billed for March 27, will take place at the Moshood Abiola (MKO) National Stadium in Abuja on March 29.
“Without prejudice to investigations by national authorities or other judiciary bodies, the FIFA Council has decided to suspend the Kenya Football Federation and the Zimbabwe Football Federation with immediate effect for undue influence by a third party,” FIFA said in a statement.
FIFA President Gianni Infantino said the sanction was due to “government interference in the activities of the football federation”.
“They know what needs to be done for the suspension to be lifted,” he said.
D’Tigress Make Giant Leap
Meanwhile, the D’Tigress moved up the FIBA rankings on the back of their impressive showing at the world cup qualifiers. The female team are now 14th on the globe, going one place up from their previous ranking. They are trailing South Korea who are in the 13th position.
Barcelona cruised into the last 16 of the Europa League on Thursday after comfortably seeing off Napoli 4-2 to go through 5-3 on aggregate in a serious show of force.
The Catalan giants were on top almost from the off in Naples thanks to Jordi Alba expertly finishing a lightning counter-attack from a Napoli corner, and Frenkie de Jong’s superb long-range effort effectively ended the tie with three quarters of the match to play.
Xavi’s thrilling side could have had more before Lorenzo Insigne briefly gave the hosts hope from the penalty spot midway through the first half, and Gerard Pique made absolutely sure there would be no Napoli comeback on the stroke of half-time.
A sobering night for Napoli, who are chasing a first Serie A title in three decades, was capped just before the hour mark by Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, impressive upfront for a dynamic Barca team that looks like it can go all the way in the competition.
“We dominated for 90 minutes and that’s the first time we’ve done that since I became coach,” Xavi told reporters.
“It’s a win over a team which I repeat is a Champions League-level team, one which does not concede many goals and is fighting for the league title.”
Matteo Politano pulled one back in the dying minutes but it was a stroll for Barca into Friday’s draw for the last 16, whose matches will be played on March 10 and 17.
“We made life difficult for ourselves with that awful start… You need to press Barcelona together as a team otherwise you will be in trouble as they will just pass it around you,” Politano told Sky Sport Italia.
Napoli fans applaud Barca
The night began with plenty of enthusiasm at the Stadio Diego Armando Maradona as the two teams lined up with a banner which read “Stop War” in protest at Russia’s invasion of Ukraine which garnered loud applause.
However, Napoli immediately handed the initiative to Barca, a dreadful short corner cleared to Adana Traore who raced up the field and fed Alba, who calmly slotted home the opener.
That error, and the blisteringly quick manner in which it was punished, rattled the home side and when De Jong curled in an exquisite second the match and tie was all-but done and dusted.
Sergio Dest and Aubameyang then had shots whistle by Alex Meret’s goal as the home fans began to voice their displeasure at their team’s timid efforts.
Napoli were given a lifeline by Marc-Andre ter Stegen, who came charging out to beat Victor Osimhen to the ball but took out the Nigerian and after a VAR check ended up giving away a penalty.
Insigne slotted home the 23rd-minute spot-kick but Barca continued their dominance and the home fans let out a sigh of relief when Aubameyang somehow headed wide from point-blank range.
Any illusion of Napoli getting through was ended on the stroke of half-time, when they failed to clear a corner and Pique scuffed a left-footed shot past Meret.
Barca’s dominance was such that when Aubameyang ended a long spell of possession, and away fan ‘oles’, with a classy finish the Napoli supporters applauded.
The away section garnered more appreciation from their hosts when they started chanting anti-Juventus songs, but the rest of the match was played out in an eerie silence.
The home fans started streaming for the exits with over 10 minutes left as Barca contented themselves by stroking the ball around, and Politano’s nicely-taken consolation goal drew little more than a polite ripple from a long-since beaten crowd.
Another action-packed week is rolling by and sports fans will look back to relish the beautiful and at other times, sad memories of the past seven days.
Like previous editions, First 11, captures some of these moments, helping you make sense of the ever-busy sporting world!
Olympic Gold Medallist Turns Taxi Driver
Former Nigerian defender, Kingsley Obiekwu, made headlines during the week after news broke that he had become a taxi driver. Obiekwu was part of the U-23 side that won Africa’s first football gold medal at the 1996 Atlanta Games. Social media was on meltdown as the news made it to the internet. Many lamented the current state of the former defender.
In the wake of the discovery, Super Eagles skipper, Ahmed Musa, reportedly donated N2m to the ex-player who now lives in Enugu State. The Olympic gold medallist said he opened up on his condition so he could get help. Aside from Kanu Nwankwo, Obiekwu said he has had limited interactions with his former teammates. According to him, he picked up the driving job to augment his football management duties.
FG Settles Athletes
Earlier in the week, the Federal Government paid the medical bills of two athletes injured during the Olympic Games last year. Enoch Adegoke and Usheoritse Itsekiri suffered hamstring injuries while competing at the Games. The Federal Ministry of Youth and Sports Development confirmed the payment of two million, one hundred and seventy thousand naira each to the athletes.
But there was also bad news for the country’s athletics as the Athletics Integrity Unit (AIU) slammed a 10-year ban on 2008 long jump silver medallist, Blessing Okagbare.
“The Disciplinary Tribunal has banned Nigerian sprinter Blessing Okagbare for a total of 10 years,” the AIU said.
The 33-year-old was earlier expelled from the 2020 Olympics. The dismissal was just before the women’s 100m semi-finals after she tested positive for human growth hormone at an out-of-competition test in Slovakia on July 19.
D’Tigress Seals World Cup Qualification
But the female basketball team gave Nigerians more reasons to cheer after they sealed their qualification for the 2022 World Cup. The D’Tigress defeated Mali in their final qualification game on Sunday to hoist the country’s flag at the championship billed for September in Australia.
The Nigerian side had bounced back from defeat to China in their first game before stunning France to keep their qualification hopes alive in Belgrade, Serbia.
A ‘Non-Negotiable’ Deal
The Super Eagles are also aiming to replicate the D’Tigress feat when they take on Ghana in a 2022 World Cup play-off next month.
During a meeting with UK-based players, the President of the Nigeria Football Federation (NFF), Amaju Pinnick, maintained that qualification for the tournament is sacrosanct. The football chief, who visited the players alongside the coaching crew, assured that the NFF will support the team in their quest for a ticket to Qatar later in the year. The players also expressed optimism that the three-time African champions will make it to the competition.
Mbappe Steals Show
Moving away from Nigeria, the UEFA Champions League returned midweek as Paris Saint-Germain (PSG)’s game with Real Madrid headlined the latest round of matches. Youngster, Kyrian Mbappe, stole the show in Paris, outshining Lionel Messi as the French team defeated the former European champions. Mbappe grabbed a late winner in the last 16 tie as the clash ended one nil in PSG’s favour.
Barcelona’s Struggle Continue
After Mbappe’s masterclass, attention turned to the Europa League where Barcelona and Napoli battled for supremacy. The Catalan’s poor run, however, continued as they struggled to hold the Italian side to a 1-1 draw at the Nou Camp. Thursday’s draw will be a major concern for Xavi who is rebuilding the team following the departure of Messi.
Manchester United’s Captaincy Row
Former winners of the competition, Manchester United, are in the news over a captaincy row between Cristiano Ronaldo and Harry Maguire. Multiple reports had suggested that the duo is at loggerheads over the team’s leadership. Interim coach, Ralf Rangnick, is, however, not ready to stripe the England international of the armband despite calls for that. The player himself dismissed reports of a dressing room row at the Old Trafford.
On Wednesday, Italian authorities issued an international arrest warrant for former Brazillian player, Robinho. The move followed the confirmation of the former AC Milan player’s conviction for rape. The Italian Ministry of Justice has also asked Interpol to enact the warrant.
A Milan court had in 2017 found Robinho and five other Brazilians guilty of gang-raping a lady after plying her with alcohol in a discotheque. The conviction was confirmed by an appeals court in 2020 and validated by Italy’s Supreme Court in January. Brazil, however, does not extradite its nationals, meaning the former Manchester City star faces arrest when he leaves his country.
Djokovic Eyes Comeback
Serbian star, Novak Djokovic, is eager to return to the court and is eyeing a comeback in Dubai. The World number one was at the centre of a vaccine row which pushed him out from defending his Australian Open crown.
Djokovic, who was deported from Australia over his vaccination status and toured the Serbian pavilion at Dubai Expo, said he missed the game.
“I am excited to go back and play on Monday,” he said, referring to the Dubai ATP tournament during brief remarks to the media. “I miss tennis after all that has happened.”
West Ham Drop Zouma
In England, West Ham coach, David Moyes, said Kurt Zouma was dropped for the 2-2 draw with Everton due to illness. The defender was listed in the squad for the clash despite criticisms over a viral video showing him abusing his cat. West Ham had earlier fined the player for the act, days after the former Chelsea player apologised for the incident.
Barcelona’s new reality will hit home on Thursday when they play in Europe’s second-tier club competition for the first time in 18 years as Napoli visit the Camp Nou in the Europa League.
The Catalans crashed out of the Champions League in the group stage with just two goals scored in six matches, the arrival of Xavi Hernandez not enough to revive their fortunes in a competition they have won five times.
A meeting with a Napoli side currently fighting for the Serie A title would be worthy of the continent’s elite club competition, and indeed the sides met in the last 16 of the Champions League just two years ago.
Yet Barca instead face a real challenge in this play-off tie just to make it through to the last 16 as they try to salvage some pride in Europe and go all the way to the final in Seville in May.
“It is not a favourable draw. They are one of the toughest sides we could have faced, a Champions League-level team,” Xavi said when the draw was made.
The Catalans, who lie fourth in La Liga a huge 15 points behind leaders Real Madrid, had appeared in the knockout rounds of the Champions League in each of the last 17 seasons, last missing out in 2003-04 when they played in the UEFA Cup.
Barcelona were not the only high-profile name to be knocked out of the Champions League prematurely, with Borussia Dortmund also dropping down into the Europa League.
The Germans will face Scottish champions Rangers with the first leg at the Signal Iduna Park as the home side wait to see if Erling Haaland will play.
The Norwegian, scorer of 23 goals in 21 games in all competitions this season, has missed Dortmund’s last two outings against Bayer Leverkusen and Union Berlin in the Bundesliga.
Sevilla also dropped out of the Champions League but that might suit a club that have won the Europa League or its predecessor, the UEFA Cup, a record six times including most recently in 2020.
– Away goals no more – They will also be driven by the prospect of going all the way to the final in their own stadium as they entertain Dinamo Zagreb in the play-offs.
There is English Premier League representation in the play-offs of the new Europa Conference League, with Leicester City taking on Danish outfit Randers.
Celtic will play the Norwegian champions Bodo/Glimt who have not played a competitive match since wrapping up their domestic campaign two months ago.
“Bodo are similar to us when we go in to our Champions League qualifiers as they are in pre-season mode at the minute,” Celtic boss Ange Postecoglou told Scottish media.
“That could potentially work both ways. We have the match sharpness, but they could have a freshness about them.”
The Conference League features other former European champions in the shape of PSV Eindhoven and Marseille, who take on Israel’s Maccabi Tel-Aviv and Qarabag of Azerbaijan respectively.
The second legs in both competitions will be played next week and, like in the Champions League, the away goals rule has been scrapped, meaning ties will go straight to extra time and penalties if level at the end of the return match.
Fixtures on Thursday (2000 GMT unless stated)
Europa League knockout round play-offs, first legs
Barcelona (ESP) v Napoli (ITA) (1745 GMT)
Zenit Saint Petersburg (RUS) v Real Betis (ESP) (1745 GMT)
Borussia Dortmund (GER) v Rangers (SCO) (1745 GMT)
Sheriff Tiraspol (MDA) v Braga (POR) (1745 GMT)
Sevilla (ESP) v Dinamo Zagreb (CRO)
Atalanta (ITA) v Olympiakos (GRE)
RB Leipzig (GER) v Real Sociedad (ESP)
Porto (POR) v Lazio (ITA)
Europa Conference League knockout round play-offs, first legs
PSV Eindhoven (NED) v Maccabi Tel-Aviv (ISR) (1745 GMT)
Fenerbahce (TUR) v Slavia Prague (CZE) (1745 GMT)
Midtjylland (DEN) v PAOK (GRE) (1745 GMT)
Rapid Vienna (AUT) v Vitesse Arnhem (NED) (1745 GMT)
Victor Osimhen scored on his first Napoli start since November to help his team to a 2-0 win at Venezia on Sunday which moves them one point behind Serie A leaders Inter Milan.
Nigeria striker Osimhen had made two brief substitute appearances since fracturing bones in his face in a sickening head clash at Inter, and rewarded coach Luciano Spalletti’s decision to pick him by leaping to head Napoli ahead just before the hour mark at the Stadio Pier Luigi Penzo.
Andrea Petagna sealed the points in the 100th minute of a match extended due a clash of heads between the referee and Venezia’s Tyronne Ebuehi, as well as that same player’s late red card for a dreadful foul on Dries Mertens.
“I prepared well for this game, had a good week and was ready to kick on from the first minute,” Osimhen told DAZN.
“And of course to start with a goal, I’m really happy about this performance from the whole squad.”
Wearing a special face mask he described as a “good look for me”, Osimhen’s sixth Serie A goal of the season — his first since mid-October — fired Napoli right back into a three-way league title tussle.
Napoli are second, level on 52 points with AC Milan who broke open the race for the Scudetto as Olivier Giroud’s derby double saw off Inter on Saturday.
Like Milan, Napoli have played a game more than Inter but they host the champions next weekend before travelling to Barcelona for the first leg of their Europa League play-off with the Catalan giants.
“We have a lot of objectives this season and the Scudetto is one of them, so step by step and with determination I think we’ll get there,” added Osimhen.
Osimhen could have had another as he struck the post in the first half but Napoli had to battle their way past Venezia, who are in the relegation zone following defeat and Cagliari’s 2-1 win at 10-man Atalanta earlier on Sunday.
– Pereiro lifts Cagliari –
Gaston Pereiro earned Walter Mazzarri’s Cagliari their third win in five league matches to move them up to 17th, two points ahead of Venezia.
The 26-year-old gave Cagliari a surprise lead four minutes after half-time in Bergamo, and was crucial to Atalanta going a man down when he was brought down by onrushing goalkeeper Juan Musso just moments later.
Fourth-placed Atalanta, who will drop out of the Champions League positions if Juventus beat Verona on Sunday night, pulled level through Jose Luis Palomino in the 64th minute.
However the hopeful home fans were silenced again four minutes later when Pereiro rolled home the winner from Raoul Bellanova’s low cross.
“We played badly, and never really troubled Cagliari,” said Atalanta coach Gian Piero Gasperini.
“We need to get our heads back and focus on being a team, because that performance was not good enough.”
Atalanta have a game in hand but also have a fight on their hands to keep Champions League football after previously looking like title contenders.
They host Juve next weekend and will have to do without Duvan Zapata for that match and their Italian Cup tie with Fiorentina, with the Colombia forward pulling up just 14 minutes after coming off the bench for his first appearance of 2022.
Sampdoria took advantage of 18th-placed Venezia’s defeat by thumping Sassuolo 4-0 and going five points clear of the bottom three.
Marco Giampaolo’s Samp won thanks to two stunning volleys from Francesco Caputo and Andrea Conti, a goal from Stefano Sensi on his debut after arriving on loan from Inter and Antonio Candreva’s late penalty.
Bologna and Empoli played out a goalless draw in the afternoon’s other match.
Peter Odemwingie, Austine Okocha, and Odion Ighalo were the others to have won the prize before the former Manchester City star’s feat.
The 24-year-old Leicester City forward was in devastating form for Brendan Rogers’ side in the period under review, scoring five goals in three league outings.
In total, he netted seven goals for the Foxes in all competitions in March 2021.
Months after Iheanacho’s record in England, Nigeria had a major upset at the Olympics after star athlete Blessing Okagbare and ten others were disqualified from the Games.
The Athletics Integrity Unit (AIU), the body managing all integrity issues in sports, said the Nigerian medal hopeful at the Tokyo Games was suspended after testing positive for Human Growth Hormone hours before she was billed to take part in the semi-finals of the 100m race.
Before Okagbare’s suspension, the body had taken similar action on ten other athletes, citing non-compliance to out-of-competition drug testing requirements.
In September, the Nigerian lost an appeal to overturn the AIU decision and is reportedly serving a four-year ban.
The Athletics Federation of Nigeria (AFN) had in the wake of the suspensions expressed shock at the decision but took responsibility for the lapses.
The lowly-rated Wild Beasts needed a 90th-minute goal to silence the home crowd at the Teslim Balogun Stadium on October 7. But the Nigerian team avenged the loss in the reverse fixture a few days later, beating their opponents 2-0 in their adopted Cameroonian ground.
He defeated Malawi’s Walter Nyamilandu to become the third Nigerian to be elected into the FIFA Council. Late Etubom Orok and Amos Adamu were former members of the council.
Osimhen’s AFCON Wrangling
While Pinnick may have gotten his foot into the FIFA Council and a new CAF president elected in the year, the squabbles over Europe-based players’ availability for the Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) made headlines for weeks.
But the Italian club were not happy with the former U-17 World Cup winner’s decision, and had in multiple reports, frowned at the move. A few days after the list emerged, the Naples side said the player had contracted COVID-19 and would follow the recommended protocols.
The development forced the NFF to remove Osimhen from the team heading to the competition. Reports indicated that the player had also asked to be left out due to health reasons.
He was also not the only player replaced in the team. According to the football body, three others including Watford’s in-form striker, Dennis Emmanuel, were replaced.
Rohr Bows Out, Peseiro Steps In
Players’ availability for the 2021 AFCON was not the only major issue ahead of Nigeria’s participation in the competition. With less than two months until the AFCON, the NFF sacked long-time coach, Gernot Rohr, as the Super Eagles manager.
Pinnick told Channels Television the decision was taken to avoid a “disaster” as he claimed that the German had lost the dressing room.
In his place, a former international and one-time coach, Austine Eguavoen, was mandated to take charge of the three-time African champions on an interim basis.
Although weeks after the move, Nigeria appointed Portuguese, Jose Peseiro, as the new head coach, the NFF said the former Real Madrid assistant coach will be on observer mission at the biennial football showpiece.
A Historic Feat
Away from football, Nigerian sports had one of its proudest moments in 2021 when the senior women’s basketball team, the D’Tigress, won a historic third Afrobasket championship in a row.
They defeated Mali 70-59 in Yaounde, Cameroon, adding to their previous wins in 2017 and 2019.
But the team’s stellar showing was marred by wranglings over payment of bonuses. The girls had protested over unpaid wages and allowances weeks after winning the competition.
South Africa Stun Nigeria
As the D’Tigresses continue to dominate the continent, the Super Falcons’ superiority in Africa appears to be fading fast. South Africa stunned the Nigerian girls to win the maiden Aisha Buhari Cup in September.
Bayana Bayana defeated the defending African champions 4-2 at the Mobolaji Johnson Arena, Onikan, Lagos State to emerge champions of the six-nation invitational championship.